in vehicle experience

Imagine a day when your car drives you to work, then heads off—without you—to pick up the groceries you ordered via your personal voice assistant. “For 100 years, a vehicle has meant four wheels touching pavement. That’s what our vision of a car is. There are now huge opportunities to change today’s vehicle,” said Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of association ITS America, during the NAB Show session “Autonomous Cars and Amazing Experiences: Safety, Content & Connectivity.”

The panel gathered an eclectic group of radio and auto industry executives to discuss what is potentially ahead for the autonomous car. It begins with connectivity and from there, becomes downright Jetsonian, according to the panelists’ forecast.

Moderator Carla Bailo, president and CEO, The Center for Automotive Research (CAR), began with a harrowing statistic: 37,000 people in the U.S. die in auto accidents each year, with 94% caused by human error. The promise of autonomous vehicles—with obvious safeguards established—will “support removing that human error element,” she said. And on the lighter side, imagine traveling in your vehicle, much like a passenger, ordering food or making a reservation at a restaurant. “Cars are going to get smarter and know your habits,” she said.

Jim Buczkowski, technical fellow & director, Electrical & Electronic Systems, Research & Advanced Engineering for Ford Motor Co., shared with session attendees, “Everything is connected in your home; we now have to deliver that in the car, with the same level of information and entertainment.” And as the industry eventually moves toward autonomous, “we have to think about what the driver is going to be doing.” He points to three primary activities: replenishment, such as eating or sleeping; entertainment, while watching news or visual entertainment; and working. “All of these things will be enabled through connectivity and they are very important in how we deliver seamlessly with ease what the consumer wants, when they want it and how they want it.”

‘Autonomous, Connected, Electric And Shared’

Sam Matheny, the NAB’s chief technology officer, added that his purview of the future of transportation is “autonomous, connected, electric and shared.” He said that broadcasters, “in particular, on the radio side,” have enjoyed a “very long and successful relationship with the automotive industry via the amount of listening that comes in via the car” as a primary location for audience engagement. He is well aware that already, increased competitors have entered the automobile, “bringing entertainment from your phone as compared to a stack of CDs.”

He pointed out that “while this is something for us to think about, I believe broadcasters are already looking at it not just as a threat—but an opportunity. How can I leverage a more engaged listener and audience? That’s really how radio is looking at its premiere placement as the number one source of entertainment in the vehicle—and taking it to the next level.” He added, “The vehicle is an important place and one that we intend to invest in.”

The NAB’s Matheny pointed to its PILOT program through which it is working with rental car company Avis—which owns the Zip Car sharing service. “They are focused on the next generation of entertainment,” he says, predicting a day where people are inside their vehicles not just for transportation, but for “an experience. We believe there is a great opportunity to marry radio with their app in development that will tell users nationwide through a cloud service where there are, for instance, rock stations on the dial… In a strange market, users can easily navigate what they’re looking for on the radio.”

ITS America’s Bhatt suggests that the vehicle of the future will be “very personalized, giving us a huge opportunity to change the way they are built today.” And, says Matheny, “There are lots of opportunities in the future for content consumption. Radio and television companies are focused on providing high value curated content that consumers want to consume. Now there are pathways into the vehicle.”